Biotech startup Cleave lands $42M A round for targeted cancer drugs

A lineup of some of the top U.S. venture groups are pouring a $42 million A round into a San Francisco-based biotech startup billed as a pioneering developer targeting "one of the last underexplored territories for harvesting new drugs to treat cancer." Cleave Biosciences will be helmed by Laura Shawver, a high-profile biotech entrepreneur who spent more than $130 million at Phenomix in a failed attempt to develop a new diabetes drug.

Shawver's new field is protein homeostasis and her scientific founders include CalTech Professor Raymond Deshaies, Ph.D., UC San Diego's Seth Cohen and Francesco Parlati, a Proteolix vet who worked on the promising carfilzomib program. Chief Scientific Officer Mark Rolfe completed stints at Millennium, Facet and CytomX.

The investors--U.S. Venture Partners, 5AM Ventures, Clarus Ventures, OrbiMed Advisors and Astellas Venture Management--are backing one of the hottest plays in cancer drug development: Developing targeted therapeutics that match subpopulations of cancer patients based on their molecular profile.

"We know too much about the biology of cancer to continue to treat each patient without regard for the unique molecular characteristics of their individual tumor, leaving them vulnerable to disease recurrence," said Shawver. "We foresee a future when the majority of cancer patients will be treated based on the molecular profile of their tumors, regardless of whether the cancer invades the lung, pancreas, liver or elsewhere. We believe this therapeutic approach ultimately stacks the odds in favor of the patient, the physician, as well as the payor."

Shawver left Phenomix last fall and joined 5AM as an entrepreneur-in-residence after the developer's pricey bid to develop dutogliptin failed. The diabetes drug actually demonstrated some promise in clinical trials, but Forest Labs walked away from their partnership on the drug after it became clear that it faced some major league competitors if it was eventually approved. That kind of experience, though, can be valuable as Shawver takes another crack at a successful development program.

- here's the Cleave release
- see the report from the San Francisco Business Times